The Autonomy of Choice
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It's not rocket science and even if it is...


There are a handful of discrete life moments that define and highlight who we are. When impact without trauma occurs during or shortly after the age of discovery it's almost as if these key moments are sent back to the Old Brain. Do we remember? I have no idea. I remember what happened when my mother sat me in front of a sewing machine, discussed patterns, cutting, pins, threading needles, and jammed bobbins. This is key; after a brief introduction to sewing 101 and the observation that I could operate the machine forward and back, she stepped away.

In my mind, she left the room and she might as well have except every time I needed her she was right there. I expect she had to actually turn her back to avoid watching and helping. I worked it out on my own and as with knitting, the foundation remained. 

We lived in a ranch house with an open dining room kitchen floor plan. I sat at the dining room table with my back to the kitchen and I expect she stood at the sink, maybe looking out the window, with her back to me. If she'd gone as far as the living room I don't believe she'd have picked up a book. Not in those first days. What mattered is that I believed I was on my own to do what she very clearly told me I was more than capable of doing.

It wasn't a test, it was freedom with a safety net. 

The dress I made was mint green and it was sleeveless and it had a zipper down the back. There were two pockets in the front. Well, they were meant to be pockets and the zipper had some issues and it was cattywampus and I wore it anyway. 

I pinned the pattern to fabric on the big cardboard cutting surface. I cut away the excess and didn't miss a dart (it's that little triangle you cut out to help you bring the edges together correctly). I shoveled it through the White and remembered to backstitch at the stop and start. I backstitched about sixteen times because it was fun. Oops came later when I learned to rip stitches. 

I had a mouthful of straight pins, which is what I was taught and my mother was helping with something. I made a typical nine year old joke and pretended to have swallowed one. The terror on my mother's face stopped that shit in its tracks. This business of machines and sharps was no joke. 


Fast forward forty-eight years. I'm doing some development work in an environment that is entirely new to me. The premise has not changed but that's often a drawback as I consistently bang my head on the keyboard trying to do something the way I think it should be done - based on history. I have been passed over for project management contracts because I had no direct contact with the cloud. As an aside, I think this is ridiculous but I'm also damn clear about transferable skills and the ability to learn and master new things. 

I'm in this position by accident. I was meant to do a fairly simple thing for six weeks but it turned out to be not so simple and suddenly I can write Python script. When that phase was complete I expected to be sent away. Instead, I was pointed to something that required working knowledge of the system. I didn't have it. I did have a solid understanding of what the build was meant to produce.

Every day I bang my head on the keyboard. I research and watch short videos. I go as far as I can, and a little bit more (because I'm stubborn and THIS CANNOT BE ROCKET SCIENCE) and then I ask for help.

This could go either way and I've got at least a decade of negative responses to support the theory that if you don't know a thing, you don't belong.

In this current place, I always get help and I notice it is almost always a teachable moment. The kid is twenty-nine and in possession of one of the most beautiful minds I've had the honor of working with. He teaches. I don't even know if he understands the value of what he's building. He's just doing it and I'm growing.


My mother embedded, in the gentlest way, the belief that I could and I should and making mistakes was the way to get there. Otherwise, says my boss, how else will I learn? I blew away an application third day in and expected to be hangged at sunrise. He said, here, go do this thing and restore it. I said (in my quiet voice), doesn't he know I can't do that? And then I did it.

I don't know if the talent or belief was innate. I know for sure the world would have beat it out of me without a foundation of belief. My mom gave me a lot, a book's worth of a lot, but this one thing has made all the difference. 

The contents of my Life Skills Toolbox are no longer measurable by me. The fact of them is measurable in increments of Mom.


Tell your children, tell your people, tell yourself this very simple thing:

Not having a clue is irrelevant because of course you can. You learned to talk, didn't you? And if not, then you surely learned something else.